State Science Advisor speaks to students
February 1, 2008
"What’s the first thing you think about when you think about science?" Tami Goetz, Utah’s state science advisor, asked the kids of the Neighborhood Homework Club (NHC) Wednesday.
"Oceans!" exclaims kindergartener Zoe Lupcho.
"Chemistry," second-grader James Swain chimed in.
Goetz added, "The candy bars you guys eat, which give you energy to bother your mom and dad that’s chemistry."
"Experiments," nine-year-old Jackson Haack said.
"Science is everything," fifth-grader Katie Turnlund said.
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"That’s true," Goetz responded. "Science is outside; it’s inside your house; it’s everywhere." She continued talking to the children about snowflakes, "the neatest science in the world."
Goetz was visiting NHC, a group of Jeremy Ranch Elementary School and Ecker Hill International Middle School students that meet once a week, to talk about careers in math and science.
Goetz said one of her priorities is to promote those career pathways. "I’m very passionate about giving kids every opportunity and option to explore what makes them happy and what they have fun doing," she said.
Goetz is looking to implement more scientific hands-on activities for younger kids. "When kids are doing hands-on stuff, they’re engaged," she said. "Kids need to leave educational institutions with a sense of passion for what they want to become."
Superintendent Ray Timothy agreed. "Whatever you experience in school, you’re going to carry that with you," he said. "If you have a bad experience in a certain subject, you’re going to have no motivation to go into that field."
Goetz said that because of the robust economy people are going straight into the workforce, creating a declining enrollment at colleges and universities across Utah. Combine that with the fact that not enough higher-education institutions have an emphasis on science and math majors, and you’ve got a notable shortage of capable people entering the workforce in those areas.
This includes a lack of math and science teachers, which the Utah State Legislature is working to rectify with Senate Bill 35, Differentiated Pay For Teachers. This bill provides a monetary incentive of $5,000 to teachers who fill a math or science position.
Timothy said that within the next three years Park City School District is going to lose a substantial number of its veteran teachers, and then Park City will have to compete with other districts across the state to attract teachers that specialize in those high-demand positions.
For Timothy, differential compensation should not only be used to attract math and science teachers, but it should address at the need throughout Utah and determine what other positions should receive supplemental salaries.
"We’d put bonuses in those areas, and the subjects could change every year," he said. "This is one way of trying to attract people that aren’t considering teaching because of its low salaries."
Another way to combat this scarcity in math and science fields is to get children involved at an early age. "I want to take what schools are doing at the high-school level and expand it into the younger ages with hands-on projects for kids in kindergarten and up," she said.
Parent Dave Robinson, whose wife, Kristen, coordinates NHC, agreed with Goetz. " the time they are in middle school and high school, it’s too late." He suggested implementing a program similar to the district’s Masterpieces in Art for science where parents would teach science lessons to students. "Why don’t we use the power of parents?" he suggested.
Kristen Robinson said NHC plans to focus on science for all of February because Jeremy Ranch students are working on their science fair projects. She thought bringing in Goetz to speak would inspire and motivate the children to finish their projects, and "it’s a fun way for them to meet a real scientist."
Third-grader Andrew Robinson, Kristen and Dave’s son, said his project is about toxicity and how common household items affect sea life. "I like doing experiments," he said. "I really want to be a scientist because it would be fun."
Lupcho said sometimes she plays a game where she’s a scientist. "Science is so cool," she said. "Then you know lots of stuff, and you’re a genius."
Goetz talked with the students about how when they grow up there are going to be problems like a lack of oil or high rates of obesity that they can help solve. "As a scientist, that’s your job to try and figure it out," she said.
The group talked about different ways bacteria could be used like to make magnets or electricity. "What’s so cool about science is that I would never tell someone they couldn’t do something," Goetz said. "If it’s a good idea, you can bet somebody’s out there trying it."
Goetz also discussed the absence of women in math and science fields. "It’s a problem that’s always existed," she said. "As a rule, we need to focus on getting girls engaged. We lose a lot of vital creativity and talent by not engaging women in science and technology, and we would stand a better chance of finding solutions to global problems if we did."
For Goetz, it’s about more than bringing qualified people into math and science fields; it’s about kids getting excited to learn. "We need to teach them to have fun about learning, and when they learn something they can use that knowledge to do things," she said.
"Science doesn’t need to stand alone," Goetz continued. "It shouldn’t be in its own solitary silo that does a disservice to students. Science and art, science and English, science and history everything has an overlap.
"There’s so much we don’t know," she told the students. "You guys can do whatever you want. Just keep asking questions, and keep up with your science and math."